Role-Playing Sourcebooks: Instant Research for Screenwriters

For me, writing is always a daunting task. I am a huge believer that the basis for any film is the screenplay, and if you muck that up, your chances of success on any level are doomed. As the old church song goes “the wise man built his house upon a rock”. So it is with filmmaking. The wise movie maker builds upon a solid foundation. The fool builds upon sand. Any questions?

So what do you do if you want to write about a given subject, but don’t have countless hours to research it? The internet is always a great place with oodles of info, but sifting through it all may not be the best way to spend your life. There is an alternative that holds great potential, but may be unknown to writers who are looking to expand their knowledge in a given area.

It may sound nerdy, but “sourcebooks” for role-playing games are like genre encyclopedias just brimming with history, culture and items that could greatly aid any screenwriter. They show costumes from all eras (real or imagined) as well as props and vehicles. Story ideas can also be found ad naseum, as the purpose of these books is to generate worlds for player-characters to interact in. This is exactly what you are doing: creating worlds in which your characters live and experience.

The best of these books are those that deal in “universal” role-playing (like GURPS). The less specific the rules are, the more the book will concentrate on the content of the game and not the nitty-gritty of play. Even if games are rule intensive, add-on books are often less concerned with rules (since they are covered in the main book), and cost less.

The artwork contained in these manuals can be quite good, and an inspiration in themselves. Look at the picture here for a defunct game called Bloodshadows. It shows a detective from a noir era, with a sexy dame on his arm. You may not be able to tell here, but she is a vampire. This world is set on another planet, but this image conjures up all kinds of ideas about an alternate earth where noir and sci-fi/horror collide. I love crossing genres, and stuff like this is priceless in stimulating the imagination.

Role Playing Games (RPGs) are a huge business and there have been literally hundreds of games that have come and gone. Perusing used book stores and thrift shops can give you excellent material for little money. If you poke around the web (on sites like you can find the titles you may like and almost always find them on eBay, again for very little cash. Libraries can be another good source, and that avenue won’t cost you a dime!

Many people often just write off RPGs as dork fodder, but even if you have no desire to ever play one of these games, they are a bountiful resource just waiting to be tapped. You may be amazed that your next great movie idea comes from a place you thought you’d never visit, but were glad you did.